Graduation address given by Mary Lane

Mary Lane gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Education and Social Work graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 13 April 2012 in the Great Hall. Mrs Lane is Honorary Senior Lecturer in Social Work, and recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in Social Work.

The photo of Mrs Lane is copyright, Memento Photography.

Mary Lane

Graduation address

Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, graduates, families and friends…

I am honoured to be delivering this occasional address. It is a great pleasure to be doing so at the University with which I have been so closely associated both as a student and a staff member. I was just seventeen when I started an undergraduate degree here, sitting in those quadrangle classrooms and the old Fisher library in the corner, walking this campus with its then wide open spaces, singing in a choir in this Great Hall – up there. I developed a love of learning and a commitment to questioning that has stayed with me throughout life. I hope this may be part of the legacy that today’s graduates receive from this university.

It’s a particular pleasure for me to be at a graduation ceremony for social workers and school teachers. With two social workers and five teachers in my immediate family I feel very much ‘at home’ in your company.

This is not an occasion for a long-winded lecture from an elder. You are all anxious I’m sure to get out there and celebrate. Rather, I see my task today as one where, briefly and succinctly, I seek to leave you with just a few worthwhile thoughts to ponder. I’ll direct my remarks primarily to the graduates.

Firstly I want to congratulate you. I acknowledge not only the work you have put in as students but your choice of career. You have chosen noble professions, service professions which promote health, wellbeing and life skills. Your rewards will be measured more by the contributions you make to the good of others and to common good, rather than by your bank account or personal wealth. Yours is the opportunity to contribute to the development of fair-minded, compassionate, thoughtful individuals, and to the building of a society that values equity, caring and wisdom. You are at the cutting edge, your direct contact with children, families, communities and institutions providing multiple opportunities to challenge the destructive effects of social injustice, ignorance, and a ‘greed is good’ mentality. It’s a responsibility as well as a joy, to be involved in such work.

This graduation marks an important point for you; it is one of life’s passages. We may see it as an ending, and it is of a sort, but it’s also very much a beginning. You are now making many decisions about where your education has led you, particularly about jobs. These immediate and practical decisions about your career may be uppermost in your minds but they are just one aspect of a bigger picture, and a deeper question, about your life’s course: “How am I to live?”

This is no academic question; it’s one with implications for day by day living. It is played out, for example, in the challenge we all face about how to balance the time and energy devoted to our paid jobs with other aspects of our lives. There is frequently – perhaps inevitably - a tension between doing a job well, nurturing family and other personal relationships, and playing a part in society as an active, caring citizen. I, for one, am no stranger to these competing claims on our lives. The tension may have been sharper for women of my generation but it is now very much an issue for all of us – for men and women.

Posing the question “How am I to live?” is about identifying priorities. It’s a particularly pertinent question at threshold times of our lives such as graduations and career beginnings. But it’s also an ongoing question, which cannot be avoided if we seek happiness and fulfilment for ourselves and for others.

There is no blueprint as to how we should respond. We all find our own way, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. At the heart of our struggle are the values we hold dear. They are there to guide us - and sustain us. Whilst I cannot tell you how to live, I can urge you to use as your guide and sustenance those values which already inform the practice of many social workers and teachers, notably commitment to social justice, human rights and non-violence. These are complex and contested concepts and we need to negotiate their meanings in particular situations and particular contexts. But in playing them out we can privilege ways of acting in the world marked by co-operation, sharing, compassion, respect for difference, and the building of trustful, egalitarian relationships.

Take pride in being called ‘a bleeding heart’, ‘a dove’, ‘an egghead’, ‘a greenie’, ‘a troublemaker’. Such labels are used, in a pejorative sense, by powerful vested interests seeking to silence dissent. We need to challenge and reclaim that language. They are labels for noble ideals that we can articulate and model: the bleeding heart of compassion and caring; the dove rejecting violence, seeking just and peaceful ways of living; the egghead pursuing knowledge and understanding; the greenie committed to sustainability and a healthy planet; the trouble maker, an activist challenging injustices. Teachers and social workers have a proud history as activists in pursuit of social justice. If you doubt your ability to make a difference, I remind you of the words of Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, “If you think you are too small to be effective you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito!”

I acknowledge it’s not easy to play out these ideals in times dominated by economistic rather than social goals. But if we are to have a fair, sustainable society, we must try. I am confident you will find, as I have, that such efforts will deliver you a rich life, one of fulfilment, friendship - and fun.

‘How am I to live?’ I hope your responses include being busy little mozzies! I wish you well in your endeavours.